Last week the nation and world were shell shocked by the spate of violence on the Virginia Polytechnical Institute campus. A lone gunman, 23-yr old V-Tech student Cho Seung-Hui, chained himself, students and staff members in the college's Norris Hall building then systematically opened fire at will through several classrooms, hallways and stairwells. When the shooting rampage was done, Cho lay dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had killed 32 innocent victims (pictured).
Initial media reports describing the shooter made several references to his ethnic heritage and immigrant status: Cho was a South Korean ÃƒÂ©migrÃƒÂ© residing in America with resident alien status. There was even early speculation that he was in this country illegally- playing on America's worst post 9-11 fears. In this era of terror alert induced xenophobia it is especially important that journalists be responsible in their reporting on immigrant peoples and communities.
The horrific events of last week were compounded for Asian-American V-Tech students by their fear of a backlash. The New York Times reported a hasty exodus by Korean-American students.
"My parents are actually worried about retaliation against Asians. After 9/11, a lot of Arabs were attacked for that reason,"said accounting major Lyu Boaz. South Korean born, he became an American citizen a year ago.
Blacks in America, no matter what their nationality, have become inured to seeing themselves criminalized in the mainstream media. The constant imagery of brown skinned men in handcuffs or police cars. Oft times we heave a collective sigh of relief when it is revealed that the perpetrator of the latest random act of violence is not African, African-American or Caribbean.
This ongoing media bias was most blatant during the coverage of events post-Hurricane Katrina. The glaring disparity in reporting depended on the race or class of the subject. African-Americans foraging for food amongst the ruins of their flooded hometown were described as looters while their Caucasian counterparts were simply "searching for supplies."
Now beyond color, nationality is the predominant factor. While it can be essential to reveal such crucial details as race or gender when trying to apprehend an offender who is at large, that was not the case last week. Even as the killer lay dead, his descent was mentioned in the headlines, or high up in the hierarchy of personal details revealed about him, in several publications. Erroneously, giving the impression that his race or nationality had something to do with the shooting. In fact, Cho had lived in this country for fifteen years.
If he had been Muslim or Arab and that fact was continuously repeated in the press- who could blame the public for the syllogism that terrorism was afoot.
The most pertinent detail about Cho was that he was a disturbed young man. Labeling him as some dangerous foreign "Other" gives no insights into the tragic events that occurred last week and only serves to foster an atmosphere of racial distrust. The nation mourns the lives lost. A nation founded by immigrants.